I am a very happy writing nerd today.
As part of the Visiting Writers Series at my university, two editors from well-known literary reviews are putting on a week-long, one credit workshop on editing and publishing. It meets for three hours in the evenings, so I was initially a tad concerned about this loss of such a large chunk of homework time (not to mention dinnertime!). Still, I thought, when else in my life will I get this kind of opportunity, to spend so much time in a relatively small and intimate group receiving direct feedback and advice from a successful editor and writer?
So I went last night, our first meeting, and we worked with lists.
As evidenced in previous posts, I organize my life several times a day, usually centering around lists. I list the meals I need to take time to eat, the homework I need to do, the extracurricular projects I need to complete, the friends and family I need to call. Listing things, for me, is already powerful in that it corrals my thoughts and lends them sequence, categorization, order.
In the workshop, we extended this philosophy to creative nonfiction, producing lists under thematic headings. We began our sentences with “I remember,” listing memories that may not have come in order but nevertheless hung together coherently by virtue of their status as List. We scribbled down things we hate, love, or are embarrassed by. We listed aloud the nuances that distinguish memoir from essay.
Many of us lauded the catharsis of writing this way, of simply letting the thoughts stream out and trusting that the format of List would make them somehow One Thing. For me, particularly when writing I Remembers, the experience was both aching and freeing.
In one of my other classes, Shakespeare Before 1600, “list” tends to have another definition. The Bard uses it to mean “wish” or “desire,” as his characters tell one another, “Do what you list.” Sometimes the lists are even a physical place, referring to the barriers of the tiltyard where noblemen jousted and wore their ladies’ favors on their lances.
These associations bring new depth to our modern understanding of “list.” To create order out of a jumble of tasks and thoughts, to explain and group discrete ideas, one must take into account one’s own desires, as well as the desires of others. Occasionally, one must also be aggressive and run at the list head-on, barreling through it and emerging victorious with a series of unhorsed opponents lying prone on the ground. (I speak metaphorically of course, although if anyone knows how to joust, please let me know in the comments because that is awesome.) We “list” things to discover “what we list” and what is worth “going to the lists” for.
Choose and/or Combine: